All Moms are Mothers, But Not All Mothers are Truly “Moms”

There’s an important distinction between Mom and Mother. Don’t think the two words are synonyms. Is a Ferrari just a car?  A diamond just a rock? 

   Weekends are kind of a laid-back time at my house. We don’t have to be up and at em too early so we take our time getting up and ready.  This past weekend was not much different. Gavin had woken up and climbed into our bed. He did his usual routine of yawning loudly and repetitive tossing and turning to make sure we were awake without “purposely” waking us.  We pretended to be asleep to prolong his efforts and see just how far he’ll take it—the answer is pretty far!  

   Finally, Annette relented and began lavishing her attention on him. I laid there watching her smother him with hugs, kisses and “tickle-grips” and I started thinking “What an amazing mom my wife is.”  She’s always laser focused on that role, no matter what else is going on in our lives.  She reminds me of my mom when I watch her with our son.  You’ll notice that I keep saying “Mom” instead of mother.  That is on purpose. Not just because it’s less formal, but because “Mom’s” are much more than mothers.  

   That’s an important distinction—All moms are mothers, but not all mothers are truly moms.  My mother was definitely an amazing, dedicated “Mom”.  Unfortunately, we lost her almost 5 years ago to Multiple Sclerosis, a debilitating disease. Circumstances allowed me the gift of one last conversation—some final words to my mom and—a promise.

   Before I get to my promise I want to give you a little backstory. My mom married my dad at 17 years old. She had me at 18, and my parents were divorced by the time she was 20. I was of course only 2 years old at the time but I do remember. Things were very tense, and for reasons I now understand, I was always with just one parent or the other.  As was common in the late 70’s with divorce, the children were awarded to the mother and the father would get visitation. I didn’t get to see my dad a lot back then. Couple of weekends a month in those early years. I’m told that they had an ugly divorce. I can attest that they didn’t get along well at all until I was a teenager.  Don’t get me wrong, my dad wasn’t an absentee father in the least and I loved him dearly, but circumstances being what they were, I didn’t get as much dad time as I would have liked.

   Dad wasn’t able to be there for a lot of those things that I myself take for granted with my own son. He didn’t get to tuck me in and read to me at bedtime. He couldn’t rush to my room when I had a nightmare to save the day…, it wasn’t possible, he lived in a different house miles away.  This was all up to mom except for a couple weekends a month.  She was there for all of it and proud to be a single mom. She took it very seriously, to the point that she completely sacrificed having a personal life for many years to be everything to me.  Mom’s generally are the ones that comfort us, nurse the boo-boos, and do that gross thing where they lick a napkin and wipe our faces.  Mom did all that and more. Like many single moms do, she would wrestle with me on the floor, play GI Joe’s, and take me camping—in other words, made sure that I didn’t miss out because I “came from a broken home”.  I think she felt guilty and responsible, like she should have done more to keep her marriage together.  Guilt over not being able to do even more for me….

   As I got older, and wanted to get into sports and I joined little league.  I was the worst player on the team, possibly the league. I started late 10 years old and most of the kids on my team had been playing since T-ball. I sucked sooo bad it was humiliating.  I didn’t’ even want to show up to practice.  My dad was working a lot back then and couldn’t get away. My mom understood and she was determined to help me improve because quitting wasn’t an option. “REESE’S DON’T QUIT” she said.

   She reached out to the team mom and got a couple of the other dads to work with me one on one. The results?  By midway through the season I hit a grand slam. I was shocked that I almost forgot to run the bases.  But what I remember most was rounding third and seeing my mom jumping up and down cheering and screaming her head off. She was making a spectacle to say the least. She didn’t stop until after I crossed home and came through the dugout procession of high-five’s where she gave me a massive hug and a kiss. Truly one of the greatest memories of my childhood.

   It wasn’t all fun and games of course. Mom was also a disciplinarian and I had clear rules to abide by. She insisted on building my character.  One time I got suspended from school in 6th grade for fighting.  She was not happy!  She hated fighting!  She was born in 1957 and therefore she was a teenager in the 70’s.  She had this very artsy, brotherly love attitude.  She was actually a very talented artist as well but that’s beside the point. Because of her world views, I thought I was toast for my offense. To my surprise, she wasn’t angry but surprisingly calm. She accepted that I was defending myself.

   I was suspended from school and she gave me an additional punishment. You’ll laugh, but I had to break up concrete with a sledgehammer in the back yard like I was in Leavenworth and wheel barrow it down the street to the neighbor’s dumpster they had for remodeling their house. While she understood that I was defending myself, she needed to teach me that there are consequences for my actions.  She did a lot to build my character.

   I had a very close relationship with my mom. She was actually my friend.  I think most moms get to have that kind of a relationship with their daughters but not typically their sons and I feel very lucky.  We lived in a neighborhood where the only other kid beside myself moved away when I was about 8.  So naturally a deeper friendship developed than that of just mom and son.

   One of the funniest things that happened would have gotten most kids in big trouble.  We were walking through a parking lot and my mom felt something wet hit the top of her head. She looked up and said, “is it raining?”.  It wasn’t, but there were birds circling.  I let out a giant laugh and I said, “there’s no rain, you’re just a Sh#$-head!”. I was probably 12 at the time but I still wasn’t allowed to cuss in front of her. But in that context, she burst out laughing.  She had a tight perm that was residual from the disco era making it even funnier because the bird bomb was hidden in her tight curls. I think we laughed about that all the way home.  I can still hear her laughter and picture her giggling.

   What I wouldn’t give to have her with us today?  To have her here fawning over my son the same way she did me. Mother’s Day is a day of remembrance for me—an annual reminder of the promise I made her, which I swear I’m getting to.

As much as she loved being a Mom, what she longed for most once I had grown up was to have grand-babies to love and spoil. With her being so ill at the time we found out Annette was pregnant, we were concerned she might not make it to meet Gavin. Luckily, when mom found out there was a bun in the oven, she baffled doctors for a short time and drastically improved. She seemed to be going into remission. She wasn’t, but she managed to hang on for his birth and be a grandma for about 5 months.  Of course, I’m no doctor, but I know it was pure will and determination of a dedicated Mom to stick around long enough to smother her grandson with love.  As short of a time as it was, they made a connection.

   When I got the call from the Nurse at Kaiser it was something I should have expected but it still shocked me. I fell apart making the call to Annette who was over at her mom’s place with Gavin. We agreed that my mom needed to see Gavin one more time.  Annette came home and the three of us went to the hospital together.  We entered the room and there she lay on the bed with tubes and IV’s sticking out of her, breathing very shallow with her eyes shut.

   As I watched her laying there in her hospital bed it was impossible to not reminisce.  They say when you die that your life flashes before your eyes. I can’t speak for that but watching my mom in such a vulnerable state had me thinking of her better days and growing up with her watching over me. I put my little 5-month old Gavin on her chest for a minute.  He was surprisingly quiet and calm and he was smiling, unaware of the sadness.  I had him give Mom a baby smooch. She wasn’t able to respond but the nurses told us that she knew we were there.  Maybe they told us that to ease the pain but I choose to believe it.  

   Annette took Gavin with her into the hall and I leaned over and gave my mom a hug.  I told her how much I loved her and how she was the best mom I could have asked for. I told her that she didn’t have to fight anymore, that we were going to be okay and she didn’t have to hang on for us.  Then I made her that promise…..

   “Gavin will grow up knowing who you were and all about you… he’ll know how much you loved him as though you are still here watching over him yourself…” Those were the last words I spoke to my mom. She passed away that night.  While I wish, she was here, I must settle for fulfilling that promise, whenever possible.

   We started a tradition at my house.  A couple of months before my Mom’s passing, she sent my stepdad on a wild goose chase for something.  He searched and searched and finally found it.  Mom gave it to me the last time she got to hold Gavin—a Christmas Ornament with Poohbear and Piglet and the words, “Baby’s first Christmas, 2012” written on it.  This ornament was so important to her. I didn’t think it too significant at the time, I was under the illusion that mom would just keep fighting forever. She didn’t make it to that first Christmas.  But every year, Gavin and I put that ornament on the tree together. As he gets older and can understand I’ll explain this tradition to him and tell him stories of my mom, and my childhood, and as promised, just how incredibly much she loved him.

   Being my Mom consumed her entire life. When I was a kid she had a license plate frame that said, “Happiness is being Christopher’s Mom”. Embarrassing to me at the time but a cherished memory today.  She put everything on hold for me. She gave up having a personal life in the prime of her youth and everything she did revolved around me and my happiness. Not to be cliché’ but my mom was a saint!  If your Mom is anything like mine, don’t wait for Mother’s Day.  Tell her and appreciate her often for everything she’s done and sacrificed for you, which is far more than you’ll ever know.  Make sure she knows that distinction between Mother and Mom and that you owe everything to her!  

Nobody’s time on earth is certain and you may not be as lucky as I was to have the opportunity for last words and promises.

Happy Mom’s Day!

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